P.G.Wodehouse, who popularised the informal greeting “What ho”, was a prolific writer and set many of his stories in the world of golf. However, he also wrote about cricket, once comparing the sport to baseball in one of his stories (‘Bingley Crocker Learns Cricket’). Like any sport, cricket offers valuable life lessons for business leaders. Here are 12 questions for captains of industry to consider carefully, many of them inspired by the recent 2018 series between South Africa and India.
Do you know who Dane Van Niekerk is?
If you are a cricket fan and you have never heard of Dane, you are more to be pitied than censured. She is the captain of the South African women’s team for all three cricketing formats. She is a cricketing celebrity, bowls leg-spin and opens the batting for South Africa. So if you haven’t heard about Dane, you may becompletely oblivious to the vast expansion of the sport among women. As a business leader, you need to actively mine for new business opportunities, or you could miss entire customer segments that canturbocharge your growth.Case in point: Guitar maker Fender recently improved sales by making products targeting women.
Can you still bowl googlies after having a night like YuzvendraChahal?
Mr. Chahalinitially flummoxed the South African batsmen during the ODIs. However by the time the T20s opened, the South Africans had figured him out. One Mr. Heinrich Klaasen in particular. In the second T20, Yuzvendra went for 64 runs in his allotted 4 overs. Ouch! Business leaders, too, have terrible days at the office that crush their self-confidence. The Cambridge Analytica data breach caused Facebook’s market cap to drop by $8 billion. On April 10, Mark Zuckerbergwas grilled for hoursby senators investigating the incident.Increased governmental regulation could alter Facebook’s business model and make it less profitable. However, Zuckerberg’sself-belief and poise in handling hostile questions from the likes of Senator Ted Cruz caused Facebook stock to rise even as he was fending off the fire.
Do you get why Dhoni was yelling at Pandey in the very last over?
Let us rewind to the same T20 game that humbled Yuzvendra. The Indians batted first and after a choppy start achieved a respectable total, mainly due to Manish Pandey (79 runs from 48 balls) and M.S.Dhoni (52 runs from 28 balls). It is the 20th over of the Indian innings and early in the over, Dhoni goes ballistic and is unhappy with the way Pandey is concentrating. Captains of industry do not tolerate complacency in execution, even when the curtain is coming down. Remember: Lotus123 was once the spreadsheet that had 100% market share. And look at what happened to Lotus. To vindicate Dhoni, India did lose this T20 game and maybe a few extra runs in the last over could have changed the outcome.
Do you want to be remembered like G.R.Viswanath?
Although he scored only 14 test centuries, Visvanath displayed immense style at the crease and his batting was artistic, a pleasure to watch. AndIndia never lost a test match when Vishy hit a century. In one game against the West Indies in Chennai, the fearsome pacer Andy Roberts tore into the Indian batting line up. The side was out for a paltry 190 runs, but Vishy remained unbeaten, scoring 97. He was deprived of a century by a whisker (the leg-spinner B.S.Chandrasekhar left him stranded), but people still reminisce about this gem of an innings.India went on to win this test. At the end of the day, people must be able to recall your gem of an innings, your spectacular project, the clutch play that saved your company. A visible project, say launching a successful new product against all odds, can establish your reputation. You certainly know who brought the Tesla into our world.What will you be remembered for?
Can you catch adequately even if you bat (or bowl) brilliantly?
ShreyasIyermade his debut against South Africa in the ODIs and did pretty well with the bat. However, a couple of his dropped catches drew flak from Kohli. Shreyas did go on to make it right, but given that he was making his debut, his poor catching must have put him under pressure. This could have been easily averted if he had paid attention tofielding. As a business leader, even if you excel in one dimension you may come under scrutiny for inadequate performances in other dimensions. Some people have trouble controlling their tempers, or some companies fail because they don’t provide a good environment for women. The former Uber CEO Travalnickwas widely admired for his hard-charging tactics till rumours of corporate attitudes towards women did him in.
Why did India lose even after Kohli’s brilliant 153?
The Indian captain was absolutely brilliant in the second test vs. South Africa (2018). However his 153 was about 50% of the Indian total.While individual heroics do enable occasional wins, cricket is still a team sport and robust contributions are needed from multiple team members. While strong CEOs with immense charisma are helpful, many companies also succeed with low-key CEOs who have built a strong team around themselves. Case in point: Macy’s struggled during the rise of Amazon and wrestled with the formulation of a digital marketing strategy to counter the giant. Despite the slowdown of brick-and-mortar retail, Macy’s remains very profitable and the company is now trying some interesting experiments with virtual reality in its stores. Do you even know who the Macy’s CEO is?
How did Bhuvaneshwar Kumar react after being dropped for the second test?
In the first test against South Africa (2018), Bhuvie seemingly did everything right. He scalped four wickets in the first innings for 87 runs and two more wickets in the second innings for 33 runs. His performance with the batwas far from shabby.Yet he was inexplicably dropped from the second test. Bhuvi did come back into the team for the third test, but what was really admirable was the way in which he handled being passed over. There was absolutely no rancour and he was once again fully engaged with helping his side win. In business too, you can play a perfect game and be passed over for that promotion, or watch helplessly as a juicy project is handed off to an incompetent colleague, but remember the saying illegitiminon carborundum. Life isn’t always fair. Rather than carry a chip on your shoulder, think positively about next steps.On the verge of Independence, the Sardar was a co-equal contender (with Nehru) for the coveted prime ministerial job. He may have felt he was passed over in 1947, but he hung around. This helped him make valuable contributions to a new nation.
Are you a walker like Adam Gilchrist?
The Australian wicketkeeper-batsman is known to be a “walker”, who voluntarily returns to the pavilion whenever he knows that he has indeed nicked the ball. This is old-school cricket, but this practice has not always endeared him to his team mates, in an era when great financial fortunes could be made or lost in a single game of cricket. Nevertheless, there is something endearing about Gilchrist’s sense of ethics. Sallie Krawcheck, current CEO of Ellevest, drew her colleagues’ ire at Citibank when she tried to reimburse clients for defective investments. Do you have the courage to be super-ethical even when it makes you unpopular?
Can you challenge a bouncer like MohinderAmarnath?
Mohinderwas known for taking on the pacers, particularly prone to playing the hook shot against the bouncer. During India’s West Indian tour of 1982-83, at Bridgetown, Mohinder had to retire for stitches after being hit on the head. When he returned to the crease, Michael Holding tried to intimidate him immediately with a bouncer. Rather than duck, Mohinder stood up and hooked him to the boundary. His game embodied grit and courage.Now put yourself in the shoes of Katherine Graham of the Washington Post, who had to decide whether to run the Watergate story or not. It took a lot of guts to break the story that led to the eventual resignation of President Richard Nixon. Katherine could have ducked the challenge, but she played the hook shot instead!
Can you transition from the under-19 game to the big league?
The Indian under-19 team in 2018 completely dominated the opposition. However as coach Rahul Dravid was quick to point out, very few participants from the previous under-19 team had actually gone on to play for India. As you move up,the games get more gruelling. SurinderAmarnath, a brilliant left-hander, made his Ranjit trophy debut when he was only 15. However, he played only 10 test matches and 3 ODIs. VinodKambli shares a record 664-run “schoolboy” partnership with Sachin Tendulkar. Yet Sachin made it and Vinod did not. What helps some people achieve their potential?We call this emotional intelligence, mental toughness or some other intangible. Marissa Mayer had a phenomenal run with Google (employee #20), but did not do too well at Yahoo. A young Steve Jobs who functioned effectively as a leader of a start-up spluttered ineffectively once Apple grew larger and went public. So don’t lose focusif you get the plum job after your MBA, there is still a long road ahead.
Can you play the test format of the game well?
Although there are threecricketing formats, life is most like test cricket.SatyaNadellalikens test cricket to a Russian novel, with plots and subplots. The thing about test cricket is, quite often nothing much happens. A pace bowler can bowl a long stretch on a hot day and achieve nothing beyond beating the batsmen a couple of times. You have tomake things happen by constantly pushing and prodding and experimenting. Patience, initiative, strategy, and endurance are the bywords of test cricket.And the wonderful thing is, there are opportunities for redemption. Thrice in test-cricket history, teams that have “followed on” have gone on to defeat their rivals. The first occasion was in Sydney (1894-95), in an England-Australia test match. The second occasion was the famous “Botham test” at Headingly in 1981. The third and final occasion was in Calcutta (2001), when India followed on after the Australians batted first. Brilliant batting by V.V.S. Laxman and Rahul Dravid in the second innings saved the Indians, who won by 171 runs. So… If you ever throw in the towel because the odds look overwhelming, it’s your fault. There is only one thing to do when following on: Work harder and never give up. General Motors was “following on”, in bankruptcy, needing a government bailout just a few years ago. The company hung in there tenaciously however. CEO Mary Barra is unravelling a subplot involving electric vehicles and self-driving cars and GM is now remaking itself, a widely admired company.
Can you shrug off immaturity like HashimAmla?
The South Africans are playing Sri Lanka and HashimAmla takes a catch to dismiss Kumar Sangakkara. Dean Jones, an Australian commentator, referred to the dismissal in a cavalier way, indicating that the “terrorist” had taken another catch. Dean Jones got his comeuppance and was terminated immediately. He did apologise to Hashim later. Instead of retaliating, Hashim has let his record speak instead. In business too, people will criticise you and shoot their mouths off occasionally. Recently, Mr. Trump has been a vociferous critic of Amazon. Jeff Bezos has ignored the Twitter attacks and kept mum so far, doubling down and focussing on making his business even better. Sometimes, the most active communication can be projected via silence.
The views expressed in this article are not those of Fortune India
The author is a member of the faculty at the School of Business, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - Camden. He holds a Ph.D. in operations research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a finalist for the INFORMS Wagner Prize, awarded for excellence in operations research practice.